Zwift Academy Road is in full swing, and this week riders attack Workout #2. I’ve seen a lot of questions about the ZA Workouts, and thought a post focusing on proper workout execution and overall Zwift Academy workout structure may be helpful. Let’s dive in!
A Note for ERG Newbies
If you’re new to structured workouts and ERG mode, I would recommend learning how it works before diving into your first workout. Read “All About ERG Mode In Zwift” for details, and consider at least starting one of the workouts in your workouts folder just to get the feel for how ERG mode works before attempting your first Zwift Academy workout.
Workouts 1 & 2
If you’re signed up for ZA Road, you’ve probably already done workout #1, and possibly #2 as well. What were your impressions of the two workouts?
For me, #2 was much tougher than #1. Don’t hear me wrong, #1 was no picnic. But I never thought, “I may not be able to do this” or “I’m near my limit”. My peak heart rate during the tough intervals stayed basically the same (around 170) for the three intervals, meaning I wasn’t fatiguing much as the workout went on.
I felt good enough, in fact, to jump into a race after the workout (albeit with a small field of riders) and ended up winning with a long final breakaway (see it on ZwiftPower).
Contrast that with workout #2, where the first couple intervals didn’t feel too bad… but the third one got my attention. And I had another set of three left to do! My peak heart rate bumped up each and every interval, from 165 to 167 to 172 to 174 to 175 to 177. Ouch!
If you’d like to watch me suffer through workout #2, here’s a silent video (I’ve spared you the joy of listening to a loud fan and heavy breathing):
How Does the ZA Program Work?
To graduate from ZA Road 2021, riders must complete a total of 10 rides:
- 1 Baseline Ride event
- All 6 Zwift Academy workouts (group workouts or individual, your choice)
- 2 Zwift Academy recovery ride events
- 1 Finish Line Ride event
That seems straightforward enough. But many Zwifters have written in to ask how best to execute the Zwift Academy “program”. For example, here’s one question I recently received:
Can someone explain how the “block 1” with three workouts works? I mean three rides in four weeks is not going to make me better. Am I supposed to do same three workouts and recovery each week for four weeks? Or just randomly do them? Or workout one only say three times in first week? Am I missing something in the app which will advise which one next to do and just need to pick a time?
Those are valid questions, because ZA isn’t structured like a typical complete training program. (A typical training program would have you doing ~3 challenging workouts per week, with 3-4 easy days in between for recovery. Do this for 3-4 weeks, take a rest week, then do the next block.)
Here’s the thing: Zwift Academy is not a complete training plan. You’ll notice in Zwift’s own messaging that they’ve moved away from calling it such. I asked ZwiftHQ to comment on this – to answer the Zwifter’s question above, essentially. Here’s what they said:
Zwift Academy is an approachable training program, built for the entire Zwift community that encompasses classic elements of training. The prescribed format from Zwift Academy coaches is to do one workout each week. The format and workout load makes Zwift Academy a program that all can engage and complete.
So there you have it. The prescribed format, as designed by the well-qualified Zwift Academy Road coaches, is to do one workout per week. That means workout #1 for week 1, workout #2 for week 2, etc. So your overall ZA activity list would look like this:
- Start with Baseline Ride
- Week 1: Workout 1
- Week 2: Workout 2
- Week 3: Workout 3 and Recovery Group Ride
- Week 4: Workout 4
- Week 5: Workout 5
- Week 6: Workout 6 and Recovery Group Ride
- End with Finish Line Ride
If you’re new to structured training, following the “one workout per week” plan is a great way to dip your toe in the water and get a little ERG in your life. That’s why Zwift’s coaches structured ZA in this way, in fact: to make it accessible for newer riders. Imagine if ZA was a typical training plan, but you were a new rider, or perhaps had a complicated schedule. It would make completing the program very difficult!
Zwift Academy is a multi-faceted thing. It’s a pro contract competition, but also a training program of sorts. It’s a massive community event that can also be done (mostly) on your own. It’s trying to be many things to many people, and that makes it a bit confusing at times. What is clear to me after speaking with ZwiftHQ, though, is that one of Zwift’s key goals with ZA is to familiarize newer riders with training systems and educate/introduce them to structured training.
With that said, for more experienced riders who have already done some structured VO2 and threshold training, doing one workout per week won’t go far toward making you a better rider (as the Zwifter above astutely observed). And that leads us to our next topic.
Adapting the ZA Workouts To Your Needs
Many Zwifters are more experienced riders like myself who 1) aren’t in the middle of a custom structured training plan, 2) want to participate in ZA but also 3) want to train effectively, seeing results for our efforts.
How should such a rider approach Zwift Academy Road? Here are three ideas:
- Double (or Triple) Up the Workouts: if you’re the type of rider who doesn’t mind doing the same workout a few times, then do each week’s prescribed workout more than once. Do the workout, have a rest day, then do the same workout again, followed by a rest day… etc.
- Workouts + Races: this is for the rider who, like myself, gets a lot of their training from Zwift racing. Try making your hard days a mixture of workouts and races. Maybe that means workout, rest day, race, rest day, then race again.
- Mix and Match: this is like the first idea, but a bit more interesting. Since all the workouts are available as “on-demand” activities in your workouts folder, you could do the week’s prescribed workout, have a rest day, then do a different week’s workout, rest, and do another week’s workout. I would recommend staying within the proper block so you’re doing VO2 workouts for the first three weeks, and threshold work for the last 3 weeks. So a week in the first block might look like this: Workout #2 as a group workout, rest day, Workout #1 (on demand), rest day, Workout #3 (on demand), rest day.
You get the idea. If one workout per week isn’t enough to boost your fitness, then increase your training stimulus in a way that keeps you interested and pushes your limits. Of course, always leave room for recovery – because that’s where we get stronger.
Questions or Comments?